Did Jesus Exit? – Part 10

In my previous post on this topic, I argued that we need to answer 44 specific questions in order to come up with fact-based initial evaluation of Bart Ehrman’s Seven Gospels Argument (SGA).

The first question is whether Mark (one of the seven sources that Ehrman points us to) confirms the following attribute claim:

A1. Yeshu’a was a flesh-and-blood person.

Because Mark is the most extensive source of the seven, one would expect that Mark would confirm all or nearly all of the eleven attribute claims involved in the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis (MJH).

In the case of attribute claim (A1), Mark has an abundance of verses that confirm this claim.

There are explicit references to Jesus’ body in Mark
14:8 “…she has anointed my [Jesus’] body beforehand for its burial.”
14:22 “Take; this is my [Jesus'] body.”
15:43 “Joseph of Arimathea…went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.”
15:46 “taking down the body [of Jesus], wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb.”
15:47 “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body [of Jesus] was laid.”

Jesus had a mother, brothers, and sisters (implying that he was born into a family)
3:30-32 “A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him [Jesus], ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ “
6:2-4 “They said, ‘Where did this man [Jesus] get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? … Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’”

Jesus got hungry
11:12 “he [Jesus] was hungry.”

Jesus produced saliva
7:32-35 “he [Jesus] spat…”
8:23 “when he [Jesus] had put saliva on his [the blind man's] eyes and laid his [Jesus'] hands on him…”

Jesus ate food
2:16 “he [Jesus] was eating with sinners and tax collectors.”
14:14 “where I [Jesus] might eat the Passover with my disciples?”

Jesus drank liquid
14:25 “I [Jesus] will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day…”
15:36 “and gave it to him [Jesus] to drink…”

Jesus walked
2:14 “As he [Jesus] was walking along…”
10:32 “and Jesus was walking ahead of them…”
11:27 “as he [Jesus] was walking in the Temple…”

Jesus sat down
2:15 “As he [Jesus] sat at dinner…”
4:1 “he [Jesus] got into a boat on the sea and sat there..”
9:35 “He [Jesus] sat down…”
11:7 “he [Jesus] sat on it [the colt].”
14:3 “as he [Jesus] sat at the table…”

Jesus went to sleep
4:37-38 “he [Jesus] was in the stern [of the boat] asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up…”

Jesus had arms
9:36 “taking it [a little child] in his [Jesus’] arms, he said…”
10:16 “he [Jesus] took them up into his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

Jesus had hands
1:41 “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…”
5:23 “Come lay your [Jesus'] hands on her, so that she may be made well…”
6:5 “he [Jesus] laid his hands on a few sick people…”
8:23 “when he [Jesus] had put saliva on his [the blind man's] eyes and laid his [Jesus'] hands on him…”
10:16 “he [Jesus] took them up into his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

Jesus had fingers
7:33 “he [Jesus] put his [Jesus'] fingers into his [the deaf man’s] ears.”

Jesus had feet
5:22 “when he [Jairus] saw him [Jesus], fell at his [Jesus'] feet…”
7:25 “she came and bowed down at his [Jesus'] feet.”

Jesus had a head
14:3 “she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his [Jesus’] head.”
15:19 “They struck his [Jesus'] head with a reed…”

Jesus was subject to being beaten and flogged
14:65 “to blindfold him [Jesus], to strike him…The guards took him over and beat him.”
15:15 “after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.”

Jesus was subject to being crucified and killed
8:31 (& 9:31) Jesus predicted that the ‘Son of Man’ would be killed.
10:32-34 “they will mock him [the Son of Man], and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him…”
15:15 “after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.”
15:24 “And they crucified him…”
15:37 “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.”

As you can see there are many factual details associated with just this one question out of the 44 questions. This is, hopefully, because Mark is the most extensive source of the seven, and there will be fewer relevant details when we examine Q, and presumably even fewer details when we look at M and L.

  • Bradley Bowen

    I don’t plan to do 43 more posts on this issue, so to keep the number of posts down I will be adding comments to this post concerning other sources (Q, M, & L) and whether they also confirm attribute claim (A1).

  • Bradley Bowen

    Q is not as extensive as Mark, so it is not surprising that Q has fewer verses than Mark that confirm (A1). However, having looked through Q, there does appear to be a number of verses in it that either confirm or support (A1):

    Q 3:16b-17
    John and the One to Come

    16b I baptize you in‚ water, but the one to come after me is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to ·take off‚. He will baptize you in ·holy‚ Spirit and fire. 17 His pitchfork «is» in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor
    and gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn on a fire
    that can never be put out.

    Comment: This passage indicates that Jesus wears sandals, and thus implies that Jesus has feet. It also mentions the use of “hands” by Jesus, which, although a metaphorical claim, makes more sense if Jesus did in fact have hands.

    Q 3:·21-22‚ ·The Baptism of Jesus‚

    ·21‚ ·… Jesus … baptized, heaven opened ..,‚ ·22‚ ·and .. the Spirit … upon him … Son …
    .‚

    Comment: The baptism of Jesus implies that Jesus had a physical body. It doesn’t make much sense to baptize a ghost or spirit.

    Q 4:1-4,
    9-12, 5-8, 13 The Temptations of Jesus

    1 And Jesus was led ·into‚ the wilderness by the Spirit 2 ·to be‚ tempted by the devil. And «he ate nothing» for forty days, .. he became hungry. 3 And the devil told him: If you are God’s Son, order that these stones become loaves. 4 And Jesus answered ·him‚: It is written: A person is not to live only from bread.

    9 ·The devil‚ took him along to Jerusalem and put him on the tip of the temple and told him: If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down. 10 For it is written: He will command his angels about you, 11 and on their hands they will bear you,
    so that you do not strike your foot against a stone. 12 And Jesus ·in reply‚ told him: It is written: Do not put to the test the Lord your God.

    5 And the devil took him along to a ·very high‚ mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, 6 and told him: All these I will give
    you, 7 if you bow down before me. 8 And ·in reply‚ Jesus told him: It is written: Bow down to the Lord your God, and serve only him.

    Comment: The first temptation involves Jesus fasting and becoming hungry. This makes sense only if Jesus normally would eat food, and only if Jesus had a digestive system. The second temptation involves the threat of physical injury from falling from a tall building. This also implies that Jesus had a physical body. If Jesus was a ghost or spirit, then there would be no risk of physical injury from a fall. The passage also specifically mentions the protection of Jesus’ feet, which implies that Jesus had feet.

    Q 7:24-28
    John — More than a Prophet

    24 And when they had left, he began to talk to the crowds about John: What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A person arrayed in finery? Look, those wearing finery are in kings’ houses. 26 But «then» what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, even more than a prophet! 27 This is the one about whom it has been written: Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your path in front of you. 28 I tell you: There has not arisen among
    women’s offspring «anyone» who surpasses John. Yet the least significant in
    God’s kingdom is more than he.

    Comment: “He [Jesus] began to talk to the crowds about John” this implies that Jesus had a mouth, lips, throat, and a tongue, so that he could talk to a crowd (and expect them to hear his words).

    Q 7:31-35
    This Generation and the Children of Wisdom

    31 .. To what am I to compare this generation and what like? 32 It is like children seated in ·the‚ market-place·s‚, who, addressing ·the others‚, say: We fluted for you, but you would not dance; we wailed, but you would not cry. 33 For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and you say: He has a demon! 34 The son of humanity came, eating and drinking, and you say: Look! A person «who is» a glutton and drunkard, a chum of tax collectors and sinners! 35 But Wisdom was vindicated by her children.

    Comment: This passage clearly implies that Jesus ate food, and drank liquids. This only makes sense if Jesus had a physical body and a digestive system.

    Q 9:57-60 Confronting Potential Followers

    57 And someone said to him: I will follow you wherever you go. 58 And Jesus said to him: Foxes have holes, and birds of the sky have nests; but the son of humanity does not have anywhere he can lay his head. 59 But another said to him: Master, permit me first to go and bury my father. 60 But he said to him: Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.

    Comment: Jesus warns would-be disciples that he is homeless. Being homeless or without shelter is a significant problem for a flesh-and-blood person, not for a ghost or spirit. Also, this passage implies that Jesus had a head, and that he needed a place to “lay his head” that is, a place to sleep. So, this passage also implies that Jesus would sometimes go to sleep, which implies that he had a physical body.

    Q 11:2b-4 The
    Lord’s Prayer

    2b ·When‚ you pray, say‚: Father — may your name be kept holy! — let your reign come: 3 Our day’s bread give us today; 4 and cancel our debts for us, as we too have cancelled for those in debt to us; and do not put us to the test!

    Comment: Although Jesus is teaching others to pray this prayer; he presumably also followed his own advice and prayed this prayer. That implies that Jesus needed bread or food of some kind, and that implies that Jesus sometimes ate food.

    Q 11:49-51
    Wisdom’s Judgment on This Generation

    49 Therefore also ..Wisdom said: I will send them prophets and sages, and «some» of them they will kill and persecute, 50 so that «a settling of accounts
    for» the blood of all the prophets poured out from the founding of the world
    may be required of this generation, 51 from «the» blood of Abel to «the» blood
    of Zechariah, murdered between the sacrificial altar and the House. Yes, I tell
    you, «an accounting» will be required of this generation!

    Comment: By itself this passage does not imply that Jesus had a body. But it is one of many passages in Q that talks about persecution and the killing of prophets and devout religious folk. This provides a context for passages that suggest that Jesus anticipated the likelihood of his being killed. Since John the Baptist was killed apparently for his outspoken preaching, it is not far-fetched that Jesus would anticipate the possibility of his own life being taken.

    Q 12: 2-3
    Proclaiming What Was Whispered

    2 Nothing is covered up that will not be exposed, and hidden that will not be known. 3 What I say to you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear «whispered» in the ear, proclaim on the housetops.

    Comment: This is another passage that indicates that Jesus talked; he spoke words and other people heard him speak. That implies that Jesus had a mouth, lips, throat, and tongue.

    Q 12:4-5 Not
    Fearing the Body’s Death

    4 And do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. 5 But fear .. the one who is able to destroy both the soul and body in Gehenna.

    Comment: Strictly speaking this only implies that Jesus followers had bodies and were subject to being killed. But the words are more plausible and more weighty coming from a flesh-and-blood person who is also subject to being killed. Persecution and martyrdom are themes in Q, and this suggests that Jesus suspected that he might be killed for his outspoken preaching, just like John the Baptist. But Jesus would be subject to being killed only if he had a physical body that could be injured.

    Q 12:22b-31
    Free from Anxiety like Ravens and Lilies

    22b Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you are to eat, nor about your body, with what you are to clothe yourself. 23 Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? 24 Consider the ravens: They neither sow nor
    reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them. Are you not better than the
    birds? 25 And who of you by being anxious is able to add to one’s stature a .. cubit? 26 And why are you anxious about clothing? 27·Observe‚ the lilies, how they grow: They do not work nor do they spin. Yet I tell you: Not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these. 28 But if in the field the grass, there
    today and tomorrow thrown into the oven, God clothes thus, will he not much
    more clothe you, persons of petty faith! 29 ·So‚ do not be anxious, saying: What
    are we to eat? ·Or:‚ What are we to drink? ·Or:‚ What are we to wear? 30 For all these the Gentiles seek; ·for‚ your Father knows that you need them ·all‚. 31 But seek his kingdom, and ·all‚ these shall be granted to you.

    Comment: Again, strictly speaking this passage only implies that Jesus’ followers had physical bodies and the need for food and clothing. But this makes more sense coming from the mouth of Jesus if Jesus also had a physical body and the need for food and clothing. That way he knows what he is talking about and can empathize with his followers and demonstrate how to trust in God in the face of the threat of going hungry and being cold and naked.

    Q 13:34-35
    Judgment over Jerusalem

    34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her nestlings under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Look, your house is forsaken! .. I tell you, you will not see me until ·«the time» comes when‚ you say: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord

    Comment: Alhough this is not a clear prediction that Jesus would be crucified and killed, it comes close to that. This and other passages about persecution and martyrdom in Q suggest that Jesus anticipated the likelihood of his being killed. That in turn implies that Jesus had a physical body and was thus subject to crucifixion and death.

    Q 14:27 Taking One’s Cross

    27 .The one who does not take one’s cross and follow after me cannot be my
    disciple.

    Comment: In view of the various passages in Q where Jesus talks about persecution and martydom, this particular saying suggests that Jesus anticipated the likelihood that he would be killed by crucifixion. But a person can be crucified only if one has a physical body, and killed only if one has a physical body. So, this saying implies that Jesus had a physical body and was subject to being crucified and killed.

  • Testinganidea

    I am not sure I understand the assumptions you are making about the nature of Mark. If I examine Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, would I not, under your approach, conclude that Charles Darnay was a flesh and blood person? He also ate, drank, walked, bled, had hands and so on.

    • Bradley Bowen

      I’m not trying to prove that (A1) is true, at least not merely on the basis of what Mark says about (A1). I agree with your skeptical point.

      What I’m doing is checking to see if Mark, Q, M, and L agree on the basic attributes of Yeshu’a that are based on MJH. If they all agree on all (or most) of the 11 attribute claims, then that would count as evidence for MJH, for the existence of an historical Jesus.

  • Testinganidea

    That the seven sources use “flesh and blood” (A1) descriptions in reference to Yeshu’a/Jesus only supports the MHJ claim if they are written to describe a historical Yeshu’a/Jesus. It seems to be a circular claim. If John Dominic Crossan (as claimed in his The Power of Parable) or Thomas Brodie (as in The Critical Bridge) are correct about the nature of Mark then these statements in Mark do not support MHJ. So your assumptions about the nature of Mark are central to your claim and should be made explicit in order to help us evaluate your argument.  

    Perhaps you are just for the sake of the argument assuming “historicity” of the sources to arrive at an upper bound for the probability of the resurrection. In this case do you feel that the Stephen Law’s Evidence, Miracles and the Existence of Jesus (Faith and Philosophy 28.2 [April 2011]: 129-51) undermines the ability to use even these mundane facts? 

    • Bradley Bowen

      Testinganidea said:

      That the seven sources use “flesh and blood” (A1) descriptions in reference to Yeshu’a/Jesus only supports the MHJ claim if they are written to describe a historical Yeshu’a/Jesus.
      =============
      Response:
      I don’t see the circularity here. Can you say a bit more about this?

      When you say “if they are written to describe a historical Yeshu’a/Jesus” do you mean ‘if they are written with the intention of presenting historical information about Yeshu’a/Jesus’? I’m not clear what your point is here.

      • Testinganidea

        Yes, the question is were they written with the intent of presenting  historical facts about an actual life of Jesus. If they were meant as revelation, parable, midrash, literary variation or any of many other types of writing then to the extent they address A1-A11 they still provide no support for MHJ. 

        If you assume they are meant to convey historical facts then in what way does their  inclusion of A1-A11 add to the MHJ hypothesis beyond this initial assumption? Can you show independence (from each-other and from other potential sources including the old testament) of these facts in these sources.

        I support your approach; I just think it will overestimate the likelihood that the sources support a MHJ.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Testinganidea said:

          Yes, the question is were they written with the intent of presenting historical facts about an actual life of Jesus. If they were meant as revelation, parable, midrash, literary variation or any of many other types of writing then to the extent they address A1-A11 they still provide no support for MHJ.

          ==================

          Response:

          Mark and Q appear to me to be written with the intent of presenting historical facts about an actual life of Jesus. Appearances can be misleading sometimes, so I am open to evidence and arguments to the contrary. As far as I am concerned, the burden of proof is on anyone who claims, contrary to appearances, that these documents were not written with this intention.

          Also, assuming that Mark and Q are independent documents, if they agree on all eleven attribute claims, then that would be evidence that they were written with the intent to relate historical information about an actual person, because two fictional accounts would be unlikely to agree on all of these attributes for a fictional character, if they were independent of each other (and did not rely upon a common source).

          MJH would provide a plausible explanation of such agreements (if Mark and Q do in fact agree on these points).

          So, although I am making the assumption that these sources were written with the intent to relate historical information about an actual person, the investigation into the details of agreements/disagreements between Mark and Q could either confirm or disconfirm this assumption. If they agree on only a few of the 11 attributes, then that would cast doubt both on MJH and also on the assumption that they were both written with the intent to relate historical infomation about an actual person.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Testinganidea said:
          If you assume they are meant to convey historical facts then in what way does their inclusion of A1-A11 add to the MHJ hypothesis beyond this initial assumption? Can you show independence (from each-other and from other potential sources including the old testament) of these facts in these sources.
          ======================
          Response:
          My assumption is that Mark, Q, M, and L are independent sources. If these four independent sources agree on MJH, on the existence of a person with the 11 specified attributes, then that is a good start on an argument for the existence of Jesus.

          I am open to hearing your objections to the independence of Mark, Q, M, and L.

          As for the OT being a source, that would only work for a few of the 11 attributes, at best. The OT did not predict that the messiah would live in Palestine as an adult in the 20s CE. The OT did not predict the messiah would be crucified or killed in Jerusalem. The OT did not predict that the messiah would be crucified or killed by the Romans. The OT did not predict that the messiah would be crucified or killed about 30 CE.

          On the other hand, Q does not have a passion narrative, so these are points in Mark that Q probably does not confirm.

          We should wait to see what the points of agreement are between Mark and Q, and THEN consider the explanation that the OT was a common source driving attributes of Yeshu’a in Mark and Q.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    Mark and Q appear to me to be written with the intent of presenting
    historical facts about an actual life of Jesus. Appearances can be
    misleading sometimes, so I am open to evidence and arguments to the
    contrary. As far as I am concerned, the burden of proof is on anyone
    who claims, contrary to appearances, that these documents were not
    written with this intention.

    I don’t think you’re getting the point. What Testinganidea is saying is that based on appearances the same could be said about (to use his/her example) A Tale of Two Cities, except that we already know the genre of that work based on externals: we know who Dickens was, why he wrote, what the expectations of his audience were, and so on. We lack these externals entirely for the gospels. So in advance of any consideration of genre, the results of an analysis like the present one strike me as worthless. And “it appears to me” is not a serious consideration of genre.

    Certainly in regard to A1, your presuppositions make the level of detail here absurd. For what text “written with the intent of presenting historical facts about an actual life of [some person]” would not give the strong indication that the person was “actual” and “historical”, i.e. a real, flesh and blood person?

    As regards the independence of your sources, Luke and Matthew are in no way independent of Mark, so you’re going to need some reliable way of setting apart the supposed “M” and “L” sources and showing that they are not the product of the authors of the larger works in which they are found. If they were composed by the authors of Matthew and Luke, respectively, and those authors were directly dependent on Mark for their narrative outline, then they can’t be called independent sources. They were plausibly the products of imaginations heavily indebted to an earlier source. An elaboration isn’t independent on its own. There has to be some way of showing that it came from an unrelated work.

    The case for Q is somewhat better, but Q is not universally accepted as a necessary step in a solution to the Synoptic Problem, even to one that asserts Markan priority (see the work of Mark Goodacre in particular). Furthermore, it seems to me, Q has the same problem I adduced for M and L. If the Q material was originally composed, or later compiled and the constituent sayings attributed to Jesus, under the influence of Mark’s narrative, then it’s not really independent in the sense of providing a confirmation of Mark’s narrative details.

    Take an example: Josephus recounts many of the events also depicted in 1 Maccabees. In so doing, on a couple of occasions he composed fine rhetorical speeches for prominent actors in the narrative, speeches that are only implied or given in condensed form by 1 Mac. This was a commonplace of Greco-Roman historiography; it was expected that an author would “put words in the mouth” of historical figures to dramatize events that may only have been known in bare outline. Josephus was therefore not being in any way deceptive about it, but nevertheless, we can’t call those speeches the “J” material and use them to corroborate our account of events narrated in 1 Mac. They’re independent, in the sense that Josephus wrote them himself, but they serve only to embellish a more or less straight retelling of earlier material.

    • Bradley Bowen

      C.J O’Brien – You have raised a number of significant points and objections. I will not be able to answer them all right away, but will try to work my way towards responding to all your points.

      You said:

      Certainly in regard to A1, your presuppositions make the level of detail here absurd. For what text “written with the intent of presenting historical facts about an actual life of [some person]” would not give the strong indication that the person was “actual” and “historical”, i.e. a real, flesh and blood person?

      ================
      Response:

      If the author of Mark believed that Jesus was a ghost or a spirit or an angel, the author could still have “the intent of presenting historical facts about an actual life” of Jesus. Perhaps the phrase ‘actual life’ is misleading, but people who believe in ghosts, spirits, or angels also believe that those entities do things and cause things to happen and perceive events.

      You and I don’t believe in ghosts, spirits, or angels, so an alleged biography of an angel or spirit would be immediately suspect. We would suspect that the alleged biography was fictional (made up by the author) or a legend or was the result of dreams and visions that had no connection to reality.

      But for a devout Jew or Christian believer in the first century, an historical account of the activities of a spirit or angel was a real possibility, so the intention to write a biography of a spirit or ghost or angel was also a real possibility. What I have shown is that the author of Mark did not view his account of the life of Jesus as the biography of a spirit or an angel or a ghost.

    • Bradley Bowen

      C.J. O’Brien said:

      The case for Q is somewhat better, but Q is not universally accepted as a necessary step in a solution to the Synoptic Problem, even to one that asserts Markan priority (see the work of Mark Goodacre in particular).

      =================
      Response:

      True, but almost nothing is “universally accepted” in NT scholarship.

      The evidence for Q has persuaded most mainstream NT scholars, and that is good enough for me. If you want to consider only arguments based on “universally accepted” assumptions, then you will not have much to think about.

      The existence of Q is not certain, but it is very probable, and that is about as good as it gets in NT scholarship.

      • Greg G.

        The evidence for Q has persuaded most mainstream NT scholars, and that is good enough for me.

        Most mainstream NT scholars accept the historical Jesus. Can we examine one element of that concensus and assume everything else they give us with a real possibility of arriving at a different conclusion?

        Some scholars say the Gospel of Thomas was at least partly based on the Gospels but others think the Gospel authors, including Mark, used it. Some of what is considered to be Q, M, or L correspond to sayings in Thomas.

        It seems to me that much of the dating of the NT related documents is based on the assumption that Jesus lived and died according to your criteria. We don’t want to go in circles with this question.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Greg G. said:

          Most mainstream NT scholars accept the historical Jesus. Can we examine one element of that concensus and assume everything else they give us with a real possibility of arriving at a different conclusion?
          ====================
          Response:
          Yes, this is a real possibility.

          However, I’m not assuming ‘everything else they give us’. I’m assuming the independence of Mark, Q, M, and L. I’m assuming the standard view that Matthew and Luke used Mark and Q as sources.

          Also, I’m not holding these assumptions dogmatically. I’m open to evidence and arguments that these assumptions are false.

          Also, these assumptions are partially an experiment – in support of answering the question “Given these standard assumptions of NT scholarship, does SGA hold up?” If SGA does not hold up under these standard assumptions of NT scholarship, then there is no need (in terms of the goal of developing a skeptical case against the resurrection) to get into trying to undermine these standard assumptions.

          If, on the other hand, SGA holds up well given these standard assumptions of NT scholarship, then that will be a worthwhile discovery, and would drive me (and others) to examine these standard assumptions of NT scholarship more closely, to see if a strong case can be made for alternative assumptions.

          Because Q does not have a Passion narrative, as far as we can tell from Matthew and Luke, I don’t expect Q to fully support MJH. I expect there to be some significant gaps. Since M and L are not nearly as extensive as Mark or Q, I also expect to find gaps there. I think I will find the devil in the details, if I continue to work at answering the 44 questions I have posed.

          So, not only is it possible to use the basic assumptions of NT scholarship to undermine SGA, I think this it is very likely that this will be the outcome. I suspect that SGA will turn out to be a weak argument at best, even assuming that Mark, Q, M, and L are independent sources.

    • Bradley Bowen

      C.J. O’Brien said:

      Furthermore, it seems to me, Q has the same problem I adduced for M and L. If the Q material was originally composed, or later compiled and the constituent sayings attributed to Jesus, under the influence of Mark’s narrative, then it’s not really independent in the sense of providing a confirmation of Mark’s narrative details.

      ==============
      Response:

      Yes, if Q was composed “under the influence of Mark’s narrative” then it would NOT be “independent in the sense of providing a confirmation of Mark’s narrative details”. But you are just spelling out what ‘independence’ means, or clarifying what it needs to mean to be relevant in this discussion.

      Is there any reason to believe that Q was composed under the influence of Mark’s narrative? What evidence is there that this was the case?

      Most NT scholars date the composition of Mark between 65 and 75 CE, and date the composition of Q in the 40s or 50s CE. How could Q be composed under the influence of Mark’s narrative if Q was composed 20 or 30 years prior to Mark?

      • Bradley Bowen

        I’m going to reply to myself about the point that Q was composed prior to Mark.

        On reflection, I see the following potential problem with the independence of Mark and Q. Crossan posits the existence of a primitive passion narrative that was later used by the canonical Gospels, including Mark. If the author of Q had access to this primitive passion narrative, then some of the sayings in Q might have been invented to fit in with the primitive passion narrative, or were in any case influenced by the words and ideas in the primitive passion narrative.

        So, for example, the Q saying about taking up one’s cross to follow Jesus might have been inspired by the primitive passion narrative. In this scenario, Mark does not derive his passion narrative from Q, and Q does not derive the saying about taking up one’s cross from Mark, but the two sources are not independent on the question of whether Jesus was crucified, because both Mark and Q (on this scenario) had access to the same primitive passion narrative.

        This is a real possibility. The question then becomes, what is the evidence that this is the actual relationship between Mark and Q? and what is the probability that this is the relationship between Mark and Q? Is the probability very low? somewhat low? moderate? somewhat high? very high? Virtually nothing in NT scholarship is certain, especially claims about the relations of Gospels to sources.

        • Greg G.

          Mark 8:34 is copied nearly verbatim by both Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23. Luke 14:26 is very much like Gospel of Thomas saying 55 while Matthew 10:37 tones it down a bit. GoT saying 101 is also similar. It seems that Mark may have toned down GoT 55 so much that neither Matthew nor Luke recognized it as such and they copied it again from Thomas.

          At New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash, Price has collected the work of several scholars who have traced the sources of Mark. He compares the end of chapter 3 to Exodus 18:2-26 but 3:27 corresponds to GoT 35, 3:28 corresponds to GoT 44 and 3:31-35 correspond to GoT 99. Price has found no sources for Mark 4:1-34 but you will find echoes of GoT sayings, 5, 8, 9, 20, 21, 33, and 62 to account for nearly every verse.

          That accounts for a sizable passage of Mark that Price hasn’t found an account for.

          Mark 12:1-12 seems to combine the garden and the metaphor from Isaiah 5:1-7 with GoT 65 and 66. Saying 66 quotes Psalm 118:22 and Mark adds the next verse to it. GoT saying 65 is more like the MacDonald explanation of drawing on The Odyssey.

          If Thomas was taking notes from the Synoptics, it seems less likely that he could so neatly cleave out both parts the Isaiah part of the passage while it would have been easier for Mark to combine the two passages.

          I think these clues support the idea that Mark used Thomas. There are also passages from Thomas in Matthew and Luke that are credited to Q, M, and L. Some minor agreements between Matthew and Luke vs. Mark might be the two using Thomas to correct Mark.

          Edited to correct line breaks. Also added a missing pronoun.

    • Bradley Bowen

      C.J. O’Brien said:

      Take an example: Josephus recounts many of the events also depicted in 1 Maccabees. In so doing, on a couple of occasions he composed fine rhetorical speeches for prominent actors in the narrative, speeches that are only implied or given in condensed form by 1 Mac. This was a commonplace of Greco-Roman historiography; it was expected that an author would “put words in the mouth” of historical figures to dramatize events that may only have been known in bare outline. Josephus was therefore not being in any way deceptive about it, but nevertheless, we can’t call those speeches the “J” material and use them to corroborate our account of events narrated in 1 Mac. They’re independent, in the sense that Josephus wrote them himself, but they serve only to embellish a more or less straight retelling of earlier material.

      =======================
      Response:

      I understand your example here, but it is based on the assumption that Josephus was aware of and influenced by 1 Maccabees. My assumption is that Q and Mark are independent documents/sources.

      If you have reasons or evidence indicating that this assumption of independence is false, then please point to that evidence. The mere fact that this is a possibility or that it is not “universally accepted” that Q and Mark are independent sources is not a good reason to reject the view that they are independent.

    • Bradley Bowen

      C.J. O’Brien said:

      I don’t think you’re getting the point. What Testinganidea is saying is that based on appearances the same could be said about (to use his/her example) A Tale of Two Cities, except that we already know the genre of that work based on externals: we know who Dickens was, why he wrote, what the expectations of his audience were, and so on. We lack these externals entirely for the gospels.

      ===================
      Response:

      We do have less information about the writing of Mark and the author of Mark than we do about A Tale of Two Cities. But I think you are exaggerating the differences.

      “we know…why he (Dickens) wrote”. I’m not so sure. We might have some comments by Dickens about why he wrote A Tale of Two Cities. But that does not mean that we know his actual motivations. He may have misremembered his reason for starting to write the book. Or he may have presented an innacurate or completely false characterization of his motivations to make himself look good or to help make a point that he wanted to make. Or perhaps he was trying to be honest about his intentions, but his actual intentions are buried in his subconscious mind and were not easily accesible by Dickens. It is hard to know a person’s actual motivations for doing what they do, even if we know the person well.

      Furthermore, although the author of Mark did not leave diaries or autobiographical writings for us to study, we can infer some of his beliefs and attitudes from a careful reading of his Gospel. So, we are not completely without information on his motivations.

      “we know…what the expectations of his audience were”. I’m not so sure. Dickens had a huge audience and there were probably a wide variety of expectations in that audience, and there was no systematic study of the expectations of that huge audience.

      Furthermore, we do know something about the genre categories available in ancient Palestine and in Hellenized areas outside of Palestine. We do know something about the expectations of ancient audiences towards various types of literature.

      I agree that we are in a better position to make correct and well-informed judgments about the intentions of Dickens concerning his books, than we are concerning the intentions of the author of Mark concerning his Gospel. But it is not easy to know the intentions of Dickens, and it is not impossible to make good judgments about the probable intentions of the author of Mark.

  • Testinganidea

    Sorry for lposting this here but on my phone and can not push “reply” below.

    Let us  leave the question of the nature of the sources (were they intended to convey historical information) open for now. My comment is simply since Bultmann the question can not be taken for granted and I suggested two recent scholars that claim non-historicity of the material. 

    As for independence of the Gospels, the existence of shared  material make this extremely unlikely. The usual assumption is that Matthew and Luke had copies of Mark.  

    The Q document, proposed as a second source incorporated into the later Gospels, is thought to have contained sayings. It is unknown if it contained any events from the “life of Jesus” or even if it credited Jesus with the sayings it contained. 

    If your argument requires the sources to be independent then this will be a very difficult argument to defend. It would seem that the dependence can be made to work in your favor as the fewer independent sources the weaker the support for the MHJ hypothesis. 

    • Bradley Bowen

      Testinganidea said:

      As for independence of the Gospels, the existence of shared material make this extremely unlikely. The usual assumption is that Matthew and Luke had copies of Mark.

      ============
      Response:

      I agree. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are NOT independent from Mark or Q. But Ehrman concedes this point as well.

      The real issue is whether Mark and Q are independent from each other, and whether the special material unique to Matthew and the special material unique to Luke are independent from Mark and Q. My working assumption is that Mark, Q, M (material unique to Matthew), and L (material unique to Luke) are all independent sources.

      If you have some reasons or evidence that disproves or casts significant doubt on this assumption, please share those reasons or the evidence.

      • Testinganidea

        If the “facts” in question are present in Mark then the independence of  M and L (unique material) is irrelevant as both Matthew and Luke had access to Mark and the MHJ claims it contained.

        As for Q, it is thought to be a sayings book (potentially not even originally associated with Jesus) without any references the life events of Jesus. Given its content the independence or dependence of Q  is irrelevant to you argument.

        Ehrman’s claim that the sources contain some independent content is not the same as the claim that they are independent sources for A1-A11. His view of the sources here seems (in my recollection) at variance with his view in Jesus Interrupted where he stresses the dependencies among the gospels. 

        • Bradley Bowen

          Testinganidea said:

          As for Q, it is thought to be a sayings book (potentially not even originally associated with Jesus) without any references the life events of Jesus. Given its content the independence or dependence of Q is irrelevant to you argument.

          ==================
          Response:

          First of all, it is not my argument. I am trying to evaluate an argument presented by Bart Ehrman in his book Did Jesus Exist?

          Second, Q does have some references to the life events of Jesus, but not many. So, I think you have a good point, and I expect that as I continue answering the 44 questions, the relative lack of such information in Q will mean that there will be gaps between Q and Mark. That is to say, Mark will confirm some of the 11 attribute claims that Q will not confirm, and if so, that will represent a problem or weakness in Ehrman’s Seven Gospels Argument.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Testinganidea said:

      If your argument requires the sources to be independent then this will be a very difficult argument to defend.

      =================
      Response:

      The argument is not mine. The Seven Gospels Argument comes from Bart Ehrman, in Chapter 3 of his book Did Jesus Exist? I am attempting to critique and evaluate that argument.

      Why will it be very difficult to defend the view that Mark and Q are independent sources?

  • L.Long

    Does jesus exist as a real person? I have found this to be a silly question. Most of the buyBull has been shown to be pure fiction, so they blew up some stuff jesus did. The people wrote about someone and he may be a real person, there is nothing to make me believe there was such but lets grant that he was real, OK now what??? Did he do all that magic stuff??? most likely not. Why? Cuz magic aint real. So he’s real, so what?

    • Bradley Bowen

      Almost nothing in NT scholarship or ancient history is certain. So, an honest and objective answer to the question “Did Jesus exist?” will be a probability estimate. One might argue for a high probability (say .9), or one might argue for a low probablity (like .1 ) or one might argue for a moderate probability (.5 or .6).

      If a good case can be made for a low or a moderate probability, then that will help the case against the resurrection, because the probability of the existence of Jesus sets an upper limit for the probablity that Jesus rose from the dead.

      • L.Long

        Wrong. I’ll even grant you 100% probability that jesus is real person. His resurrection as per the gospels is still 0%. Cuz magic does not exist. Forget proving jesus, prove magic then we can talk miracles.

        • Bradley Bowen

          You misunderstand my claim.

          I’m NOT saying that the probability that Jesus rose from the dead is EQUAL to the probability that Jesus existed. I’m saying that the probability that Jesus rose from the dead is LESS THAN the probability that Jesus existed.

  • Tommykey69

    This is the first post in this series I’m reading, but wanted to clarify, did you mean to title these posts “Did Jesus Exist?” instead of “Did Jesus Exit?”

    • Bradley Bowen

      I chose the title “Did Jesus Exit?” in order to emphasize the connection between the issue of the existence of Jesus and the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. In order for Jesus to rise from the dead, he must first be alive. In order to EXIT this life, Jesus must first EXIST.

      The probability of the existence of Jesus sets an upper limit on the probability of the resurrection of Jesus. If the probability that Jesus existed is .7 (seven chances in ten), then the probability that Jesus rose from the dead must be something less than .7, for example.

      The answer to the question “What is the probability that Jesus existed?” is an important input for answering the question “What is the probability that Jesus rose from the dead?”.

  • Bradley Bowen

    There are a couple of important assumptions involved in Ehrman’s Seven Gospels Argument that have been pointed out in comments to this post:

    A1. The genre of Mark (and Matthew and Luke) is ancient biography; the intent of the authors was (in part) to provide historical information about an actual person.

    A2. Mark and Q are independent documents. The author of Mark did not read or use Q. The author of Q did not read or use Mark. The author of Q and the author of Mark did not make use of a third document or tradition that predates both Q and Mark.

    Are these assumptions true?

    I’m not sure.

    Objections have been raised against both (A1) and (A2) by some NT scholars.

    But there are a couple of reasons to accept these assumptions, at least provisionally.

    1. These assumptions are accepted by many NT scholars, and almost nothing is universally accepted by all NT scholars.

    2. These assumptions are generous; they are assumptions that help Ehrman to make his case for the existence of Jesus.

    Although I have no problem with challenging assumptions that are widely accepted by NT scholars, my preference in arguing with believers is to be generous and to grant as much as I can to them, especially when the assumptions are plausible or are accepted by many scholars in the relevant field.

    I believe that is it often the case that there are problems in the logic or reasoning that is based on assumptions, and that it is often the case that one can grant all or almost all of a believer’s assumptions and yet show that their desired conclusion does not follow from those assumptions.

    If by granting these assumptions, Ehrman is able to make a solid case for the existence of Jesus, then I might want to take a closer look at these two assumptions. But I suspect that being generous and granting these assumptions to Ehrman will NOT be enough for him to be able to make a solid case for the existence of Jesus. So, I plan to continue to grant these assumptions and to work out answer to the 44 questions concerning Mark, Q, M, and L.

    If you want to get at the objective truth about Jesus, then you probably should spend some time reading about and thinking about (A1) and (A2) among other widely accepted beliefs of NT scholars.

    My interest is not purely to get at the objective truth about Jesus. Right now, I have a somewhat narrower focus. I’m interested in getting at the objective truth about Ehrman’s reasoning about the existence of Jesus. Given Ehrman’s assumptions, does his conclusion follow? Getting at this bit of objective truth will help me, and perhaps others, to do a better job of tackling the central issue of Jesus’ existence.

    I’m also interested in the question of whether his assumptions are logically consistent with each other (and thus open to challenging an assumption in terms of logical inconsistency). I’m also interested in the question of whether any of Ehrman’s assumptions are idiosyncratic or run contrary to beliefs and theories that are widely accepted by NT scholars (and thus open to challenging assumptions on those grounds).

    There is nothing wrong with a more radical sort of skepticism that challenges basic assumptions that are widely held by experts in a particular field. Indeed, this is one important way that knowledge develops and evolves in intellectual and scholarly fields. I’m just not interested in putting my time and energy into that sort of radical skeptical effort at this time on this particular issue. I hope that there are other skeptics out there who are interested in putting their time and energy into that sort of radical skepticism.

    There is enough room in this world for both my conservative sort of skepticism (that does not try to rock the boat of NT scholarship) and also for a more radical sort of skepticism that challenges basic assumptions that are widely accepted by experts in a particular field.

  • Bradley Bowen

    What about M, the special source (or sources) used by the author of Matthew in addition to Mark and Q? Does M also corroborate that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person?

    The birth story passages in Matthew are unique to Matthew and are considered part of M. I don’t believe that the birth stories in Matthew are historical. I believe they are legends, and most mainstream NT scholars would agree. In fact, not only do I reject the idea that Jesus was born of a virgin, but I also doubt that he was born in Bethlehem, and many NT scholars also have doubts about that point.

    So, if the birth story in Matthew is a legend, then how can it provide “corroboration” of (A1)?

    Although I believe that the birth story from M is a legend, it does show that the author of M believed that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person, which means that the ‘Jesus’ of M has at least that attribute in common with the ‘Jesus’ of Mark and Q, at least in terms of the belief and understanding of whoever composed M. If M lines up with Mark and Q on other basic attributes of Jesus, then this would be further evidence that there was an historical Jesus whose existence explains the correspondance of multiple independent documents concerning the attributes of Jesus.

    Matthew 1:1-17
    The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah
    This passage gives a genealogy of the ancestors of Jesus. The idea that Jesus had ancestors implies that Jesus had parents. This passage also explicitly says that Jesus was born to a woman named ‘Mary’ (verse 16). The genealogy is probably not true historical information. Nevertheless, it shows that the author of M believed Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person. A flesh-and-blood person would need to have been born and would have ancestors. An angel or spirit would not have been born and would not have had any ancestors.

    Matthew 1:18-25
    The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
    According to this passage from M, Jesus was born to a woman named Mary. The fact that Jesus was born to a woman indicates that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person, as opposed to being an angel or spirit who could simply float down from the sky. Even if Jesus did not have a virgin birth, and even if he was not born to a woman named Mary, the invention of such a story makes sense as the response to an impressive charismatic religious preacher who was a flesh-and-blood person and who was believed by the author of M to be a flesh-and-blood person.

    Matthew 2:1-12
    The Visit of the Wise Men
    This passage asserts that Jesus was born at a particular time and in a particular place. This implies that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person. It has this implication even if the particular time and the particular place was invented (the place being derived from OT prophecy), because it shows that the author of M believed that the adult Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person. A spirit or an angel would have no need to be born at a particular time or place, and the whole idea of “birth” is physical and biological and thus does not apply to angels or spirits.

    Matthew 2:13-15
    The Escape to Egypt
    If Jesus was a spirit or an angel, then there would have been no need for Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt in order to protect the baby Jesus from being killed by Herod. The warning to flee and the flight itself imply that Jesus was subject to being killed, and thus that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person. Again, the flight to Egypt is most likely a legend, but it shows that the author of M believed that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person as an adult, and thus believed that Jesus was born into this world and in need of protection from physical harm.

    Matthew 2:19-23
    The Return to Nazareth
    Again, a divine communication reveals that it is safe for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to return to Palestine, and they do so. This implies that there was a previous time in which it would have NOT been safe for Jesus to live in Palestine, a time when Jesus would have been subject to being killed by Herod. But this implies that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person. Although I believe that both the escape to Egypt and the return to Nazareth are legends, they do show that the author of M believed the adult Jesus to be a flesh-and-blood person, which would be the basis for belief that Jesus had been born of a woman, and was subject (as a baby) to being killed.

    The stories from M related to the birth of Jesus clearly point to the belief of the author of M that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person.

    What about other stories and sayings that come from M? Do they also provide corroboration of (A1)?

  • Bradley Bowen

    Update on M.

    In a comment below I argue that the passages in the first two chapters of Matthew about the birth of Jesus show that M (the special source used by the author of Matthew) represents Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person, and that this is relevant even if these stories are legends.

    I think my reasoning is OK on this, but I was operating on a false assumption, or a very questionable assumption, namely that the birth narratives came from M. But it appears that this is probably not the case, so my analysis of the birth stories in Matthew is beside the point, given that we are trying to see how Jesus was represented in M.

    One of the key scholars who has studied M is G.D. Kilpatrick (author of The Origins of the Gospel of St. Matthew, 1946), and Kilpatrick argued that “M was a written source containing only teaching material; the narratives peculiar to the Gospel of Matthew were added by the evangelist.” (Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, “The Contents of M in Matthew”).

    So, for my analysis of how M represents Jesus, I will stick to the more restrictive scope of M as layed out by Kilpatrick (as presented by Van Voorst in a couple of charts in his book Jesus Outside the New Testament, p.145 & p.146)


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